I have been a faculty member at GCC for over 30 years, but for those of you who don’t know me very well, one fact is that I have won more contested elections to serve as an officer in the Guild than any other member (and I have never lost an election to serve that labor union). However, a group selecting a policy on some issue is very different from a group selecting a human candidate to fill a role. Humans are inseparable bundles of strengths and weaknesses, habits and perspectives, but it is often the case that the multiple potential dimensions of a policy are independently adjustable.
A key tactic in getting yourself elected to office is private lobbying with likely voters, where individual concerns can be discussed, and the candidate’s deeper understanding of the electorate enhanced. But, while private lobbying likewise helps a proposed policy receive the most votes in a group, private lobbying often HARMS the search for the best possible policy. It’s a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma game, where keeping discussions public is the best course for crafting the optimal policy, but where private lobbying can make sense to individual group members who don’t care about public deliberation and focus instead on making sure their pre-conceived notion becomes the policy selected.
Good “citizenship” in the group also requires being willing to put forward alternative proposals you have thought of, along with supportive arguments for them, rather than keeping your ideas to yourself. You might think it best not to risk getting “shot down” by the rest of the group, but you are serving the group by helping it to consider all alternatives.
Group discussion allows for a wider range of potential policies to be discovered and considered, as deliberators go back and forth trying to avoid the problems that the initial proposals contain. But if folks have pre-determined their positions after being privately lobbied, they are unlikely to be open towards these new policy options that often come up during group deliberation, leading to a sub-optimal policy winning the vote.
This is one of the motivations behind the strong discouragement of “voting by email” in our college Governance Policy. It is also one of the motivations behind the Brown Act here in California, which places strict limitations on members of local legislative groups (such as GCC’s Board of Trustees) discussing issues in private. It’s true that the groups at our college that decide many of its policies (such as academic departments, divisions, governance committees, the Senate, etc.) are not legally subject to the Brown Act, but the same logic applies. Private lobbying to help your pre-conceived notion “win” here can be effective, and isn’t illegal, but should be viewed as unethical (or at least a breach of etiquette) due to its deleterious effects.
A similar Prisoner’s Dilemma inhibits robust deliberation even when there hasn’t been any private lobbying. Groups ideally seek internal relations based on generosity and positive reciprocity, but this sometimes leads to an unhealthy avoidance of disagreements. One may think it is individually rational to “go along to get along” and not acquire a reputation for being disagreeable, but in choosing this path, one is again risking sub-optimal policy selection by the group.
Good “citizenship” in the group also requires being willing to put forward alternative proposals you have thought of, along with supportive arguments for them, rather than keeping your ideas to yourself. You might think it best not to risk getting “shot down” by the rest of the group, but you are serving the group by helping it to consider all alternatives. It is best for the group to put forward all of your ideas, so you just need to have a thick skin when those ideas are rejected. It’s those who are holding back their ideas, or not being open-minded about alternative proposals, or are engaging in private lobbying who have something to feel bad about. Let’s all be better group citizens!
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